What happens in Candide?

In Candide, Candide has a series of increasingly bizarre adventures. After being banished from his childhood home, he joins the army, flees the Inquisition, travels to South America, finds the mythical city of El Dorado, and then reunites with his beloved Cunegonde.

  • Candide grows up in Westphalia, where he's taught by the philosopher Pangloss that this is the best of all possible worlds. Despite the atrocities he witnesses in the course of the novel, Candide never truly gives up this belief.

  • When the Baron of Westphalia discovers that Candide has fallen in love with the Baron's daughter Cunegonde, he banishes Candide, prompting Candide's long and winding journey to win her back.

  • In the end, having been reunited with Cunegonde, who has lost her good looks, Candide concludes that it's enough to be content and that all one needs to be happy is a garden of one's own to tend.

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Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Candide: Or, All for the Best is Voltaire’s most widely known work and one of the most widely read pieces of literature written in the French language. Voltaire invented the philosophical tale as a means to convey his own ideas and, at the same time, entertain his readers with satirical wit and ironic innuendo. Candide (the name refers to purity and frankness) is the tale’s main character. He embodies the philosophical idea of optimism that Voltaire intends to oppose.

As the story begins, Candide is forced to leave Wesphalia because he has been caught kissing the baron’s daughter, the beautiful Cunegonde. Candide is driven from the splendid castle of the Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, where Doctor Pangloss has been Candide’s tutor and has taught him that all is well in this “best of all possible worlds.” Little time passes before the naïve Candide finds himself conscripted into the Bulgarian army. As a soldier, he witnesses firsthand the terrible atrocities of war. Escaping to Holland, he miraculously encounters Pangloss, who is himself in a pitiful physical state. From the ever-optimistic philosopher, Candide learns that his former home in Germany has been burned to the ground and that all of those inside have been massacred by the advancing Bulgarian army.

Voltaire continues to narrate his story with a cascade of adventures. He nonetheless keeps close to the principal reason for telling his tale: discrediting the metaphysical idea that all that happens on earth has been determined by Providence and therefore must be judged as being for the good of humankind. Pangloss, who has lost part of his nose and one eye to syphilis, continues to insist that all is going well in spite of overwhelming adversity. Candide and Pangloss travel to Lisbon, where they arrive just in time to experience the famous earthquake of 1755. Not only are they caught in Portugal during this natural disaster, but they also become embroiled in the Inquisition. Only by the reappearance and intervention of Cunegonde is Candide saved (Pangloss is a presumed victim of the Inquisition). In rescuing Cunegonde, however, Candide must kill an Israelite and the Grand Inquisitor.

Candide, Cunegonde, and an old woman (the daughter of Pope Urban X) flee to South America. Even there, they are tracked by the agents of the Inquisition; Candide and Cunegonde must separate or risk being burned at the stake. Candide takes refuge in Paraguay, the kingdom of the Jesuits, where “Los Padres have everything and the people have nothing.” Candide comes upon Cunegonde’s brother among the Jesuit leaders. They quarrel because Candide, in spite of his humble origins, insists on marrying the young baron’s sister. Candide wounds him, apparently mortally, and again takes flight with his valet and companion Cacambo.

Throughout all the journeys of Candide, who next discovers Eldorado (the city of gold and precious jewels), Voltaire delights in attacking the excesses of humankind—from the brutality of wars to the ignoble institution of the Inquisition. In order to emphasize tolerance and...

(The entire section is 2,940 words.)